Visualizing the retreat of Hintereisferner

Hinteresiferner is the best-studied glacier in Austria with one of the longest records of glacier mass balance in the world. There are relatively abundant old maps and the oldest photographs of Hintereisferner date back to 1884, only 30 years after the Little Ice Age maximum in the Alps. The glacier extent has never been as great since then.

Philipp Rastner published a paper in 2016 (Rastner et al., 2016) describing how one can make appealing vizualizations from a timeseries of digital terrain models. In this publication an animation of the retreat of Findelengletscher in Switzerland was generated, and  using 11 topographic maps and making the assumption that the glacier geometry change between each surface model is linear – meaning the change between two digital terrain models is distributed evenly over the intervening years. This might not be realistic; for example instead of gradual retreat the glacier might have retreated rapidly and then stayed relatively constant, but for vizualizing the cumulative change over time the approach is still useful.

The method involves careful filling of any gaps in the digital terrain models, coregistering them and rendering the animations. From his paper this was done as follows: “All data pre- processing and main processing were performed in the ENVI 4.7 remote sensing and IDL  programming software (Exelis Visual Information Solution, USA). Esri ArcGIS 10.2 and Microsoft Excel were used for the co-registration and Adobe Photoshop for the DEM void filling and artefact removal. The DEM morphing was done in Abrosoft Fanta Morph and the rendering of the computer animation in Visual Nature Studio 3 (VNS; 3D Nature LLC). Finally, all movie  components were matched together in the video editing program Adobe Premiere.”, but you’ll have to read the paper for more details.

Studies based on Austrian glacier inventories (1969, 1979 and 1998) and reconstructions of glaciers at the Little ice Age maximum have revealed the scale of the glacier retreat over this period (Fischer et al., 2015), but Philipp Rastner has also made an animation of Hintereisferner change in the same way as he did for Findelengletscher using a number of alternative digital terrain models of the glacier surface, and here it is:


Rastner, Philipp; Joerg, Philip C; Huss, Matthias; Zemp, Michael (2016). Historical analysis and visualization of the retreat of Findelengletscher, Switzerland, 1859–2010 Global and Planetary Change, 145:67-77.

Fischer, A., Seiser, B., Stocker Waldhuber, M., Mitterer, C., and Abermann, J. (2015) Tracing glacier changes in Austria from the Little Ice Age to the present using a lidar-based high-resolution glacier inventory in Austria, The Cryosphere, 9, 753-766,

About lindsey

Environmental scientist. I am glaciologist specialising in glacier-climate interactions to better understand the climate system. The point of this is to understand how glaciated envionments might change in the future - how the glaciers will respond and what the impact on associated water resources and hazard potential will be.
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